Bishop's pastoral visit to inmates part of Year of Mercy outreach

IMAGE: CNS photo/Sam Lucero, The Compass

By Sam Lucero

REDGRANITE, Wis. (CNS) — Behind
a makeshift altar standing in the shadows of a basketball hoop, Bishop David L.
Ricken celebrated Mass in a gymnasium that could have been mistaken for any
Catholic school gym in the Diocese of Green Bay.

But the uniformed security
officers stationed at the gym’s entrance, as well as the two security
checkpoints situated in areas outside of the athletic facility, made it clear
that this was not an ordinary gymnasium.

Nor was it an ordinary Mass.

As part of the Jubilee Year of
Mercy, Bishop Ricken celebrated Mass Nov. 2 for inmates at Redgranite
Correctional Institution, a medium security adult male correctional institution
located in the village of Redgranite, about 80 miles southwest of Green Bay.

The prison is operated by the
Wisconsin Department of Corrections with a staff of 293 and an inmate
population of approximately 1,000, according to the facility’s 2016 annual

About 75 inmates, both Catholic
and non-Catholic, attended the liturgy and afterward received a special
blessing from Bishop Ricken on behalf of Pope Francis.

In addition to Bishop Ricken,
several diocesan staff members, clergy from the Green Bay and Madison dioceses
and prison ministry volunteers from local parishes attended the Mass. Mary
Armbrust, pastoral care and ministry coordinator for the Green Bay Diocese,
organized the visit. She said it was the last of three Year of Mercy activities
she has helped organize. The other two included care ministry coordinators, parish
nurses and volunteers serving adults with disabilities.

Before Mass, Bishop Ricken spoke
to the inmates. He told them he was there to fulfill a wish of Pope Francis,
during the Year of Mercy, to extend God’s mercy on all people.

“I come to you with a special
mandate, a special directive that was given by Pope Francis,” Bishop Ricken
told the inmates. “He asked every bishop in the world to reach out especially
to people in prison and to bring to them the gift of the grace of a Year of

Bishop Ricken explained that
Pope Francis wants everyone, “especially those in prison ‘ to be able to
receive the graces of the Year of Mercy,” ending Nov. 20. God’s mercy flows to
anyone open to it, he said.

“You know, (God) knows each one
of you, brothers, better than you know yourself. The Scriptures tell us he can
count every hair on our head. God knows everything about you, the good and the
bad, and it’s true about me as well. He knows about me inside and out.”

At the same time, said Bishop
Ricken, “God is not interested in keeping score.”

“God is in the business of love
and he wants to communicate to people desperately his tremendous love and
mercy,” Bishop Ricken told the men, all dressed in green prison uniforms.
“Nobody has done anything so bad that God will not forgive. But it’s a matter
of having the humility to approach Jesus and ask for forgiveness, to ask him
for mercy for you and to place your sins — and me too, I have to do this all
of the time — before the Lord and ask for his mercy and forgiveness.”

While God is like “an ocean of
mercy,” said Bishop Ricken, mercy can only be given if people accept it.

“So Jesus is asking us to
receive that mercy and enter into a relationship with our Lord. He wants you to
be his friend and I’m here to ask you to let him into your heart and into your
mind,” said Bishop Ricken. “Jesus will never let you down. He’s always
dependable. He’s always right here for you.”

According to Bishop Ricken, all
bishops were asked to use a prayer and blessing written by Pope Francis and
share it with inmates. The bishop read the prayer at the end of Mass.

He also urged them to study the
word of God in the Bible and be open to its message. “As you start to grow in
your relationship with our Lord, something happens inside,” he said. Hardened
hearts are softened and a desire to share God’s love with others begins.

Four inmates assisted in the
liturgy. Kenneth Crass played the keyboard, Michael Daniel and Thomas Kopp
served as readers and Greg Shookman served as a greeter.

Before reciting a final prayer
and blessing, Bishop Ricken blessed rosaries that some inmates brought with

As the men exited the gymnasium
at the end of Mass, they shook hands and shared a few words with Bishop Ricken
and the other ministers and volunteers.

Bishop Ricken, who visits
inmates at the prisons in Green Bay and Oshkosh each year at Lent and Advent,
told The Compass, Green Bay’s diocesan newspaper that spending time with the
Redgranite inmates was moving.

“They really appreciate that the
priests and the deacons and lay ministers come to care for them, give them
pastoral care,” he said. “They are just so grateful and they really pay
attention during Mass.”

Armbrust said the men also were moved.
“Some shed tears. One man was still crying going through the reception line
after Mass,” she said.

Bishop Ricken said he was
thankful to Pope Francis for offering an opportunity for the church to share
God’s mercy with all people, including those on the fringes of society.

“This Year of Mercy has been so
beautiful and especially to offer that love of God, through Pope Francis,” he
said. “To be able to do that in his name has been a great privilege for me.”

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Lucero is news and information
manager at The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay.

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